The standing committee’s report on the Lokpal Bill, to be presented in Parliament this Friday, has seen much to and fro, drafting and redrafting, as several issues remain contentious. NDTV has accessed the latest version, a day before the committee meets one last time; the draft proposes that the key issue of whether the Prime Minister should be included within the ambit of the Lokpal, should be left for Parliament to decide.
The 30 members of the committee, from different parties, have failed to agree on the inclusion of the PM in all the time that the panel has been debating the draft. There are three opinions – one that the PM be included, another that the PM be included, but only after demitting office, and the third that the PM be excluded. There is no consensus in sight on this. Team Anna has strongly pitched for including the Prime Minister.
On another much-debated issue, the panel’s draft suggests leaving out the lower bureaucracy from the ambit of the Lokpal, though it prefaces this by saying that the demand to include it is valid.
The government has argued that it will be an administrative nightmare if every complaint against lakhs of public servants is examined by the proposed nine-member Lokpal; the committee agrees it will be an unwieldy task. And has finally decided on the exclusion of Group C and D for now, with the suggestion that after the new ombudsman body stabilises, the inclusion of Group C can be considered. For now, it suggests that complaints against Group C officials be handled by the other autonomous anti-corruption body, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
The standing committee’s draft has also proposed the exclusion of the judiciary from the ambit of the Lokpal.
The proposal on the lower bureaucracy is likely to immediately run into extreme rough weather with Gandhian Anna Hazare and his team of activists, who are watching developments in Parliament keenly. Team Anna has made it clear that it will not unbend on key demands and is keeping the pressure up. In a statement put up on the website of India Against Corruption, the civil activists have demanded that the Lokpal Bill passed must ensure that the ombudsman body will investigate allegations of corruption against all 60,000 central government employees, and similarly the Lokayukta must do that in every state.
The draft was scheduled to be presented in Parliament tomorrow, but that has been pushed by a couple of days to December 9. For the government that is two days less of the short Winter Session. It has to contend with the deadline set by Anna Hazare: pass the bill now, or face a new hunger strike, followed by campaigns against the Congress in the five states that are headed for elections.
Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi who heads the committee and had asked for a few more days to finalise the report, denied there was any delay in submitting it, explaining the extension he had sought as time needed for procedural matters like translation, printing and publishing. Mr Singhvi is said to have sought an extension of four to five days, which would have meant that the presentation of the Bill would have been pushed to next week. But the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Vice President Hamid Ansari, reportedly asked Mr Singhvi to explain why he wanted more time and is said to have expressed the worry that a week’s extension would mean that the possibility of tabling and passing the Lokpal Bill in this session would become difficult. Mr Ansari is believed to have insisted that it be presented by Friday, December 9.
Sources say Mr Singhvi has called a meeting of the Standing Committee tomorrow apparently because of a large number of dissent notes over key issues like the exclusion of the Prime Minister and the lower bureaucracy from the ambit of the Lokpal. Team Anna says that the government is trying to deliver immunity to the PM by leaving the office out of the Lokpal’s review, and unless junior bureaucrats are covered, the average man will continue to confront corruption for everyday issues like getting a passport or a driver’s licence.
Team Anna member Kumar Vishwas said, “Why does the standing committee need an extension? Not to talk to us… Anyway it will be tabled before December 11 so we will plan our strategy based on that at Jantar Mantra on that day.” On December 11, Team Anna plans a one-day protest at the Capital’s protest-spot Jantar Mantar. Then on December 27, they plan to launch a fresh agitation, including Anna Hazare’s third hunger strike of the year, if the government does not pass the Bill in this session which ends on December 21.